New Close the Gap research finds flexible working regulations aren't making work more flexible for women

In 2010, the UK Government extended the right to request flexible working regulations to all employees. Close the Gap’s new research, Flexible Working for All?, looks at the availability and uptake of flexible working in Scotland between 2010 and 2015 to identify whether this regulatory change has resulted in increased flexible working across Scotland’s labour market.

The research reveals that it has had very little impact on the uptake of flexible working, women’s access to flexible working specifically, and therefore gender equality at work more broadly.

The key findings include:

  • The use of formal flexible working in Scotland has changed very little over the period of the study.
  • There was some change in the use of individual forms of flexible working; small increases in the use of home working (4.0% to 4.9%) and flexi-time (12.0% to 12.3%) for which there is a broadly even gender split. However, there were small decreases in the use of job sharing (3.8% to 2.7%) and term-time working (1.7% to 1.1%) which are significantly more likely to be used by women than men.
  • Part-time work continues to be much more likely to be used by female parents than male parents, with little sign of change.
  • Less than three-quarters (70%) of Scottish employees indicated that they had formal flexible working available at their workplace, even after the extension of the right to request.
  • Over half of employees felt that they have access to informal flexibility however a fifth (20%) of employees indicated that neither informal nor formal flexibility was available at their workplace.

Summary of findings on increases and decreases to different types of flexible working

These findings reaffirm what we already know about the limitations of the right to request regulations. Employees have to be in their job for six months before making a request which creates a barrier to women looking to move to a new job. This is compounded by the very low proportion of jobs that are advertised as being available for flexible working; only 12% of jobs paying more than £20,000 are advertised as having flexible working options. This particularly affects women returning to work after taking time out to care and those who hold a series of fixed term contracts. Also, the eight business reasons employers can use to justify a refusal are very broad, so it’s relatively easy to refuse a request if there is a wider cultural resistance to flexible working.

This new research comes at an important time as the UK Government this week announced plans to consult on changes to the law which would improve transparency around employer policies on flexible working, and introduce a requirement for employers to consider advertising all jobs as flexible.

The business and economic cases on flexible working are clear; employers that enable their staff to work flexibly have access to a more diverse pool of talent, are able to retain key people, see their business become more productive. We therefore make a number of recommendations to employers in the report which aim to tackle a range of barriers to flexible working including:

Read the full report Flexible Working for All?.

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